A Comment on Minimalism’s Misconceptions – Part 2

Post written by Monica Gaylor.

“When you are content to be simply yourself and don’t compare or compete, everybody will respect you.” – Lao Tzu

(Note:  The introduction and conclusion are the same as in Part 1 – so it can skipped for a shorter read.  And if you missed it – Part 1 can be read by clicking this link.)

I recently ran across an excellent article that has inspired me anew.  In Joshua Becker’s, Addressing Minimalism’s Misconceptions, he efficiently explores one of the reasons that I started my minimalist blog.  I wanted people to understand that there are all kinds of minimalism and there is not one correct way to be minimalist.  I want to inspire people who are not interested in minimalism to adopt one or a few minimalist practices.

My blogs sub title is: Minimalism + Aesthetic.  I believe that in the search for less one must not ignore the concept of beauty.  It is my belief that most minimalists are really clearing away the excess in order to find this beauty, this authentic-ness – the sublime.  It is something different for everyone, but I believe all people search for it and must experience it.

I wanted to take this opportunity to comment on some of the things Becker so wonderfully stated.  I have borrowed the layout of this article from him (imitation is the sincerest form of flattery), as I believe it was very well done.  The headings in bold are his, but the comments following are my take on minimalism – how I have enacted some of the concepts of lighter living in my life, the things I struggle with, and the things I have conquered.  Some are serious and some are very tongue-n-cheek.

“Minimalists come in all sizes, ages, genders, races, nationalities, social classes, and religions.”   Joshua Becker

8.  Minimalists are extreme environmentalists. I wish I were much more environmentally friendly toward Mother Earth, but sadly, I am not.  I drive 20 miles one way to work.  This cannot be avoided – I live in AZ where public transportation and city planning is a joke.  I use / buy far too much plastic. Unfortunately, I can never remember to take my own bags into a store.  I probably don’t recycle as often as I should.  I am an artist.  Most artist supplies probably are not earth friendly.  Admittedly, this area of my life could use an overhaul.  But, by being a minimalist, I can at least say: that in my tiny house – I have to cool and heat much less space, buy less furniture, paint less walls, etc., and I don’t buy as many clothes and stuff as most people.  I fantasize about living in a place where I don’t have to own a car and I hope to one day make it a reality.  Until then, I do the best I can with my balancing act and list of priorities.

On this same topic:  I have the feeling that many minimalist women are thought to be ladies who wear their hair natural and don’t wear make-up, perfume, deodorant, or any of the related items.  And probably some are.  I am so far from this that it is laughable.  I feel like I should launch into the song “I Like Being a Girl.”  Minimalism in the bathroom, for me, is to stick to one of everything:  one hairspray, one deodorant, one perfume, one of each make-up item required, etc.   This “one of everything approach” did cut down on a lot of clutter!  I do, however, own 2 nail polishes.  I even tried to cut down on supplies in the shower by buying the 2 in 1 shampoo and conditioner, but my hair didn’t feel right so I had to switch back to separate bottles (i.e. too much plastic.)

9.  Minimalists count their possessions. I do not and have never counted my possessions.  Becker sums it up nicely by saying that some do and some don’t.  I was a bit put off put by one blogger who seemed to obsessively count his things and rant about how no one should read his blog if they owned more than 100 things. The “100 Thing Challenge” was started by Dave Bruno.  He and Leo Babauta seemed more reasonable about it, but still – I never did quite take to the rules.  They only counted “their” things and not “shared-family” things like couches, tools, or books.  As a single person, I was thinking to myself, I own the couch, I don’t share it with anybody – shouldn’t I have to count it?  And the same for all of my other unshared items.  A whole book collection counted as one thing or something strange like that.  It seemed weird to me that a collection of 500 books or 20 books counted as 1 item?

When I planned on starting this blog, long before I started it, I had the idea to write a post about – My Take on the 100 Thing Challenge.  However, upon writing a rough draft, I realized that it was very negative and I did not want to critique someone else’s version of minimalism.  If someone else’s journey involves counting, then so be it.  My journey involves keeping only those things that are needed, useful, and beautiful (preferably, all three).  At times in my life this may be more and at other times it may be less.  Taoism implies that “…there is no standard way of living that allows one to have a rewarding life.”  In other words, you must follow your own path.  Minimalists choose to have less than most.  But, there is no number that makes you minimalist or not minimalist.  Use your own best judgment.

Personally, I find it hard enough keeping things from entering my house and even harder getting things to exit my house.  I think perhaps my house is the center of some weird magnetic or gravitational anomaly.  I should probably alert NASA.  But seriously – who has time to go around counting their things with this big world in which to play.  Count your blessings instead.

10.  Minimalists are not sentimental. I am way too sentimental.  And furthermore, I don’t want to deal with my sentimentality.  Most of the stuff / clutter left to deal with in my life is of the sentimental nature.  My parents and all of my grandparents have passed away.  I am the legacy holder.  I do not like this responsibility.  I fear throwing away a picture for obvious reasons.  What if it was important?  And more importantly, I fear even opening the drawers (10 of them, 2 chests full) of pictures and documents that are not organized because of the sentimental and emotional fallout that would inevitably occur from such an undertaking.  It is on my list of things to do in the very near future (has been for years).  I do not look forward to doing this.  But, I will probably be so glad once it is done.  I am sure I will blog about the experience.  One note:  I only have room to store all of that stuff in my tiny house because I am a minimalist.

11.  Minimalists are condescending and pompous. I really hope that I am not condescending or pompous regarding minimalism.  I have been very excited about it for the last couple of years, as I have re-dedicated myself to the practice of simplicity.  Admittedly, I may talk to my friends about it too much.  None of who are minimalists.  They always bring up important points for their lifestyles and keep me on my toes.  One example I vividly remember after I had read a blog about getting rid of books:  I was talking about how I wanted to get rid of all my books once I got an ebook reader.  Now, remember, I work in academia.  Books are sacred.  One would have thought I proposed that we start WWIII.  People were almost (ok – they were) yelling at me.  Somebody asked me if I was going to live in a box?  Well, I did not want to be ostracized, so I decided to keep all my books and bought a bookshelf.  Yes.  I gave into peer pressure.  I am still coveting an ereader, but I will wait in the name of peace and peer pressure.  I like my friends (and my books?) and want to keep them.

The only minimalists I actually know are from their blogs.  So, I don’t really know if they are condescending or pompous.  But, they see things as I see things.  So, I log on to see how others are engaging in the practice of minimalism and what ideas I can gleam from them.  Because really, it’s just about the journey, not the label.

12.  Minimalists are being mean to their kids. As a teacher of high school children for 15 years, the best results seem to occur in kids who do not get everything that they want.  The most well adjusted children, who are ready for the “real” world, are those who had to do without, earn their own money and things, and actually “experience” the “opportunity-cost” concept in action.

I think regarding kids and stuff, as the Buddha said, the middle path is best.  And, it is best whenever possible to let the child make choices and learn from those choices.  Children need to understand that everything has a “cost.”  For example, $200 could buy a nice Ipod, purse, be spread around to various things, or be saved, etc.  The child would learn a valuable lesson from any of those choices, especially if they want all of them.  For example, the choice of the Ipod came at the “cost” of the purse, the other things, and saving the money.  An even better lesson would be if they actually had to earn that $200 to buy the ipod, etc.  Would it be as important to them if they had to work 25+ hours for that expensive item?

It would be far “nicer” to prepare you kids for reality and to have them value intangible qualities and people rather than superficial constructs and things.

13.  Minimalists never entertain. I rarely entertain.  But, it has nothing to do with being a minimalist.  I don’t have any friends that entertain often and they are all non-minimalist. By that I mean more than once a year (like myself.)  In fact, I think it may be becoming a lost art.  Entertaining in the home has been given up for dining out with friends.  This is how my friends and I seem to do it.  Maybe it is a generation thing?

14.  Minimalists don’t own televisions. Well, in my case, this is just not true.  And for the record, I love my TV.  I watch it way too much.  I have a 42-inch flat screen.  It is wonderful.  I was “forced” to buy it when the “big switch” came around.  I never got around to ordering that converter box thing from the government (ahh – because I was in denial).  So, when there were only a few days left, I broke down and went to purchase the new TV.  There was a big sale at the store and … I got a 42-inch TV.  I had fantasies of being able to watch TV without my glasses on.   Well, when I got it home and all hooked up, I was amazed.  It was so cool, and big, and clear.  I was in love.  My paradigm had shifted somewhat.

Now, don’t get me wrong.  I haven’t abandoned all of my principles.  I only have free channels via the antenna.  I would never pay to have more commercials come into my home.  But don’t worry… it gets worse.  With my new TV and all its plugins – I knew that somehow I could hook my computer up to the TV to play things over the internet.  And, the Apple Genius people helped me accomplish that.  I had no idea that this was the devil in disguise.  Once I did the hookup, it became a world full of cool discoveries, one after the other.  And, it’s free (since I already paid to have the internet).

First, there was Netflix (I was already a member) and then there was Hulu.  My whole TV world has changed.  A monster has been unleashed.  Through Hulu, I never have to watch a show at a certain time.  My life is my own.  Hulu has fewer commercials too.  I have abandoned shows I used to watch that are not aired on Hulu or some other internet means.  Netflix also keeps getting more and more stream-able movies and shows.   I now feel that waiting for my movie to come in the mail takes way too long and why can’t I just stream them all?  I have become extremely impatient with this process now that I can anticipate the future that is not quite here.  Like I said, a monster has been created and it wants to be instantly gratified.  Again, my paradigm has shifted dramatically – even before the market is ready.

But, watching only the content you want, at the time you want, and without commercials could be argued to be quite minimalist.

For me, minimalism is a philosophy on a way to conduct ones life.

  1. “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”  Jim Elliot
  2. “The truly brave man is the one who dares everything for the sake of his own liberation.”  Unknown author
  3. “Change….is when we give up who we are, to become what we could be.”  Unknown author

Somehow these quotes managed to make it into the little quote book that I have been recording things in for years.  When seen together like this, for me, it becomes a plan of action, or – a mission statement  For me, minimalism is a journey toward my authentic self and an attempt to regain control of a life that had become so out of balance and turbulent.  Labels really mean nothing.  Its just a way to find others and information on subjects relevant to you.

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One thought on “A Comment on Minimalism’s Misconceptions – Part 2

  1. Jean April 12, 2011 / 9:01 pm

    Nice post! I wasn’t the person yelling at you about the books was I? I certainly hope not. And you do need to keep all of your Taschen books!! :). Nicely put, btw, all the child raising opinion.

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